There’s a public service announcement on late night sports talk radio (my husband’s addiction, not mine) that features a grown man saying things like, “that car is red! Isn’t that a fast car? Go, red car, go!” The announcer breaks in and says, “This man might not make any sense to you… but to his 3 year old son, he makes perfect sense”. The ad then states that when adults speak to children in full sentences or in songs the children develop better. It was trying to sell parents on the idea of talking to their kids.
From the research I have read, this advice is very solid. Children not only develop their vocabularies better when they have significant adult interaction, but they have been shown to develop better in most intellectual and social capacities. Indeed, I have heard that the worst damage done to children who grow up in crowded, short-staffed institutions is not from malnutrition but from a lack of cuddling, talking and cooing. Perhaps you have heard stories of babies in developing countries whose bottles are propped in the bars of their cribs because their caretakers only have enough time to make the rounds of feeding and diapering.
Despite my many shortfalls as a parent, I excel in the area of child interaction. So much so, that when I heard the PSA I mentioned earlier, I was kind of confused. Why would someone bother to make an ad to tell parents to sing to their babies? Mine has inspired at least one new tune per day in her 5 and half months of life so far. She also gets so thorough a narrative about what is happening around her that I sometimes have to remind myself that perhaps the woman in the stall next to me does not need a detailed account of my daughter’s diaper change.
I admit, I am not dreaming of sky-high ACT scores when I rewrite the lyrics to Old MacDonald for the umpteenth time to include a certain wide-eyed infant. I am simply delighting in her presence and unashamedly trying to earn one of her captivating smiles. That, I think is the real value behind adult/child interaction. It is the day-to-day manner in which we communicate to the child his or her worth. Each smile tells baby that we are glad she exists, that she brings us joy, that she belongs in our family. In short, it is how the baby comes to understand that he or she is loved. I think that once a person can feel confident in the fact that he is loved, it is only natural that other skills, such as language or logic, would also begin to blossom.
We are now in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, which is named for the way the weeks are ordered, not for the lack of cool decorations or special customs. Still, Ordinary Time can feel kind of… ordinary. We expect all the really good penances and epiphanies and spiritual mountain-tops to come from “special” seasons like Lent and Easter. But Ordinary Time is a season of growth and hope. The “special” seasons are like many of the special occasions in our lives: birthdays, baptisms, weddings, graduations, etc. But it is what happens during the every-day that really shapes who we are.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Ordinary Time begins for the year with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In the Gospel reading this year, we heard God the Father say to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” I feel a faint echo of the Father’s delight in Jesus when I peer at my baby and think my heart might burst with joy. The Father is affirming Jesus’ worth, the Father’s joy in his existence and in their relationship. Not that Jesus needed it. As an also fully divine Person, who had always existed, he lived constantly in the affirmation of the Father. Yet the Father offers it anyway. I think he offers it for us. Knowing that we all would enter those baptismal waters, sanctified by Jesus, the Father knew we would need to get that affirmation that our very existence is good. We need to know we belong.
Ordinary Time is a chance to allow ourselves to receive the look of delight in the face of our Creator. To learn that though there are times that are the spiritual equivalent of being trapped in our car seats for what feels like forever in a poopy diaper, the Father will always reassure us that He is there, that he cares for us, and that he is head-over-heels in love with us.
The fact is that some of us need a spiritual PSA, reminding us to go receive that love. Just like it must not be obvious to every parent that they should talk and sing to their kids, it’s not obvious to many of us that we need to be faithful to prayer and to the sacraments, especially the Mass. I would imagine that good, loving parents might avoid conversations with their babies in an effort to get it all done, to keep food on the table, to be sure everyone in the house has a dry butt. But in doing so, they may be missing what a baby needs most—the reassurance that he is cherished for who he is. Many of us (myself included at times) often miss out on experiencing God’s delight in us for the same ultimately trivial reasons.
So, let’s not wait until Lent to recommit to our prayers, to the sacraments and to any other spiritual practices that allow us experience God’s love for us. For it is through this every-day dosage that we can really begin to soar in all aspects of our lives.
Copyright 2011 Libby DuPont